Conversations With Prostate Cancer Experts

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Dr. Eric Rohren: Why Radiology?

Dr. Eric Rohren is the chair of the department of radiology at Baylor College of Medicine.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about the path that led him to radiology.

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Why did you become a doctor?

Dr. Eric Rohren: I actually tried my best not to become a doctor initially. My father was a doctor. I grew up in the shadow of the Mayo Clinic up in Minnesota. I knew I was interested in science, but for a long time, I thought I wanted to pursue a career as a research scientist and not a physician.

As I made my way through college and looked at what I really enjoyed and what a career would look like, I wanted to focus on patient care and do things that impacted people. I looked for a career that could combine the science that I enjoyed with the ability to directly interact with people, to hopefully make their lives better. I came full circle, landing back in a career in medicine.

How did you end up in radiology and nuclear medicine?

Dr. Rohren: That was also a little bit indirect. Most medical students aren’t introduced to radiology until very late in their medical training.

A lot of people make the decision to do medicine or surgery well ahead of time, but radiology is often a latecomer. Nuclear medicine is even more so. It’s a subspecialty of imaging, its own medical specialty, but it can also be considered a part of radiology. Medical students often make it through their entire medical training without learning about nuclear medicine at all.

I was fortunate to have a mentor in the radiology department at the Mayo Clinic who taught me what he loved about radiology and how impactful it was on patient care. He got me further plugged in to nuclear medicine.

As I went into my residency and pursued it further, I decided that the science that I loved and the ability to do new things were most focused in radiology, and particularly in nuclear medicine. That’s the career I ended up with.

Many people assume radiology is just imaging. Is that the case? Where does it branch off into nuclear medicine? What kinds of therapies would a radiologist administer?

Dr. Rohren: A big part of being a radiologist is reading images. We also oversee the acquiring of the images, so we monitor the acquisition of the scans and the technologist performing the scans. Many of the people reading this article will have had X-rays, CTs, and MRIs. While technologists and nurses take them into the scanner and get them positioned, ultimately, the radiologists are the ones who oversee the program and make sure that the scans are acquired in the right way. They’re responsible for patient safety, the patient’s experience, and things like that.

At the back end, once the scan is complete, radiologists interpret the scans and look for the findings that may be used to guide medical decisions. Whereas many radiologists can go through their day and not see a patient, they do see the patient’s images. However, there are components of radiology that are directly related to therapy and directly patient-facing.

In interventional radiology, we do biopsies and endovascular procedures, catheter-based procedures, embolizations, administering treatment, and things like that. In women’s imaging such as mammography and breast cancer screenings, those radiologists spend a lot of their time talking to patients and counseling them about their diagnosis and procedures.

One area of radiology where we do meet with a patient face-to-face and interview or talk with them is in nuclear medicine. In that role, we act as “real doctors,” where we walk in, interview the patient, review their labs, go over the plan, do a consent process if it’s for a therapy that has some risks associated with it, and then we administer the therapy directly there in the clinic. When I serve in that role, I feel much more like a patient-facing physician than I do a traditional radiologist. It’s one of the most enjoyable things about it for me.

People tend not to be familiar with specialists until they need them. They might not really understand what you do until they’re at the point where they need your services.

Dr. Rohren: Generally, that is the impression, that the radiologist sits in a dark room, reads scans, and that’s the end of it. The national societies for radiology really encourage us to interface with patients and physicians to make our presence known. Radiologists need to do a better job of that. We have a critical role to play in the management of patients and the diseases that they’re dealing with, so the more we can be out there, share our professional knowledge, act as consultants, and act as physicians for the patients, that’s a positive thing.

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Advanced Imaging + Prostate Cancer

Dr. Phillip Koo is Division Chief of Diagnostic Imaging at the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about advanced imaging + recurrent prostate cancer.

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Do you have any advice for men considering advanced imaging for prostate cancer?

Dr. Koo: We’ve been talking about better imaging tools for prostate cancer for years. When it comes to other cancers, we moved forward a great deal when FDG PET/CT became available. With prostate cancer, we’ve been stuck with CT and bone scans since the 1970s. They’re great tools. I don’t want to devalue what they’ve done for our patients since then, but we knew we could do better. Urologists and oncologists knew patients had metastatic disease, but our imaging tools limited detection.

We have new tools available to us in 2018. There is no question that costs are going to be higher, but that shouldn’t stop us from exploring and pushing the envelope. The whole purpose is to improve overall survival and treatment for our patients. An ounce of diagnosis could be a pound of cure. If we could identify disease sooner, identify the right patient for these exams, and use them at the right time, then we could probably create treatment plans more appropriate for patients with better outcomes. It’s something that I firmly believe. There is so much potential here.

When radiology is practiced in a vacuum, it’s not as powerful as when it’s integrated into patient histories and treatment plans. Radiology is a very powerful tool. But we often think of it as a commodity, something that does not have any distinguishing value. That is a huge under-estimation of radiology.

When performed correctly in a multidisciplinary setting, with access to the medical record and physicians who are taking care of the patient, radiology unlocks information that can really impact care for patients with prostate cancer. And we are currently only scratching the surface. This will change as analytic tools continue to analyze bigger data sets that include imaging and clinical data. If a urologist determines that their patient needs imaging, they’re going to write a request for imaging that describes what type of test they want and why they need it.

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Patients often go to the closest facility. Convenience is important, but when it comes to certain tests or exams, I urge patients to seek out subspecialized radiology experts and facilities with the experience and expertise in the performance and

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Imaging + Prostate Cancer Recurrence

Dr. Phillip Koo is Division Chief of Diagnostic Imaging at the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about imaging recurrent prostate cancer.

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Prostatepedi:Some imaging occurs when men are first diagnosed. When, after treatment, do they encounter these newer imaging techniques? After a high PSA reading? Or just a part of routine follow-up?

Dr. Philip Koo: That’s a really tough question because imaging has a role throughout the continuum of care for any prostate cancer patient. Screening currently isn’t done with imaging, but there are a lot of research studies looking at it.

Prostate MRI is most often used for the detection of local disease. Oftentimes, patients with a rising PSA and a negative standard biopsy might get an MRI or an MRI-guided biopsy.

Bone scans and CT scans are used to help detect metastatic disease. There are many different scenarios, but usually after patients are diagnosed with cancer, most will visit radiology if there is a suspicion for metastatic disease. If we refer back to the RADAR 1 paper published in 2014 by Dr. Dave Crawford in Urology (see Urology 2014 Mar; 83(3): 664-9), we talk about imaging patients at initial diagnosis and imaging those who are intermediate or high-risk. In those patients, we recommended a bone scan and a CT scan.

Patients who are biochemically recurrent may also be imaged. Again, MRI will often be used to look for locally recurrent disease. Bone scans and CT scans are used to look for metastatic disease.

What about some of the newer imaging techniques?

Dr. Koo: The newer techniques are exciting. In both the patient community and the scientific community, we’ve heard a lot about these tools over the past decade. They weren’t widely available, especially in the United States. These newer imaging tools are simply better, which is why there is so much excitement. They will pick up more sites of disease at lower PSA levels.

When we do detect sites of disease, they’re more specific. Our confidence that these sites are actually disease is higher than our confidence when we’re using traditional bone and CT scans. These tests perform at a higher level compared to standard imaging.

Another benefit to these new tools is that in one single exam, we’ll be able to detect soft tissue and bony disease.

How do these newer techniques change treatment? If you can pick up the disease at a lower PSA is that going to change how a doctor treats a man?

Dr. Koo: Yes. We will be able to detect disease sooner. Currently, these newer imaging techniques are used mostly in patients with biochemical recurrence. When a patient has biochemical recurrence and we see the PSA rise, our standard imaging techniques are often not good enough to detect metastatic disease. The problem is that the radiation oncologist or the urologist needs to decide how they want to treat the patient.

Using these newer tools, we can provide the urologist or radiation oncologist with better information about whether or not the disease has spread at the time of biochemical recurrence. If it has not, and the urologist can perform salvage cryotherapy or a radiation oncologist does salvage radiotherapy, we could potentially cure the patient.


Dr. Koo: You’re hitting the disease before it spreads, so theoretically yes. These newe imaging techniques do better, but we really need to prove why this is important and how this impacts care. The answers to these questions will solidify the utility and value of these imaging techniques for prostate cancer patients.

If a patient gets the Gallium-68 PSMA or Axumin scans will his local urologist or oncologist know what to do with that information?

Dr. Koo: Maybe. The problem is that all of this sounds great: we have a tool that can detect disease sooner, better, and more accurately. But then the more important question is what to do with that information and does it impact outcomes. If we don’t know, then what is the value of that imaging tool? We operate under the assumption that earlier detection is always better, but we’re learning that in a lot of diseases that is not always true.

We could be over-diagnosing and over-treating certain diseases. Whether it’s imaging, urology, radiation oncology, or oncology, it really is a team effort because we all bring something unique to the table. We really need to work together to make sure we come up with the best plan and the best answers.

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Dr. Philip Koo: Why Medicine?

Koo-WEBDr. Phillip Koo is Division Chief of Diagnostic Imaging at the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Prostatepedia spoke with him about imaging recurrent prostate cancer. But first we asked him why he became a doctor.

Dr. Philip Koo: I became a doctor in large part because I couldn’t imagine anything better than spending my life learning about the human body and using that knowledge to improve human health. Given that I tended to do better in science and math, medicine provided a nice fit.

Why radiology?

Dr. Koo: During medical school rotations, you try a variety of specialties. A common theme in all my rotations was the central value or importance of imaging within the care of a patient. That piqued my interest in radiology. When I learned about radiology, I was captivated by looking at images or different techniques to capture a certain body process anatomically or physiologically and by being able to use that information combined with the clinical scenario in order to come up with a diagnosis.

Did you ever study engineering? I’ve been reading a lot about how radiology and imaging are becoming incorporated into the tech world, such as with IBM Watson.

Dr. Koo: I’m not much of a techie. Before I switched to one of those flat screens, my friends used to joke that I was the last person in the United States to have a tube TV.

To me, it’s not necessarily a disconnect with radiology because radiology is the practice of medicine. It is an art. No matter how much technology we implement, there still is an art to the way you practice the science of radiology.

There is no question that technology has caused a tremendous growth in our field over the past 10 to 20 years. These technologies were disruptive and beneficial to our specialty. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are the newest technologies poised to disrupt the specialty. As a specialty, we are embracing these tools and finding ways that they can be utilized to improve patient care.

Join us to read Dr. Koo’s comments on imaging + prostate cancer.